The University-wide implementation of Moodle – a major element of the new Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) – is in full swing, as one of a number of Digital Life projects currently being undertaken by UAL. The Blackboard plug is being pulled – so to speak – at the end of July and Moodle will be taking its place. So imminent is the migration that three MA courses at CSM have been using live Moodle sites since January.
Moodle is open source software, meaning it allows users to change, modify or develop it to suit their particular needs. In contrast to proprietary systems like Blackboard, the open source nature of the software allows the organisation using it to make modifications as required, at a pace that responds to the needs of those using it.
BA Architecture Senior Lecturer, Andrew Sides, has taken on the role of CSM’s VLE Implementation Coordinator this year. As Andrew explains, the implementation and adaption process for Moodle was organised by the Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design CLTAD. Together with the coordinators from the five other colleges he forms part of the implementation team along with a VLE Group comprised of staff members who are given the badge of ‘Moodle champion’. With the participation and expertise of programme lead administrators, the implementation team was able to draw up a series of training cycles leading up to the University-wide adoption of Moodle this September.
“Programme lead administrators are crucial members of the implementation group as they are seen as key figures in the supervision, content migration and use of Moodle. They’re knowledgeable of stress points, busy times, and how the courses are structured within the bigger picture.”
Currently in the training and introduction phase of Moodle, the four staff training and introduction cycles devised by the implementation team began in January and are mostly completed, with just the mopping up of people who weren’t able to attend earlier courses remaining. This means that there are at least one or two members of staff from each course with Moodle training – in the case of larger programmes like Graphic Design for example there are around twenty people that have had Moodle training to date.
The next task for the VLE Implementation team lays in the encouragement of course teams to develop their sites before the summer holidays or at the latest September. Andrew realizes that this task is more difficult because staff will actually have to begin using the software, and uploading content. He goes on to warn of the strong incentive to do so- Blackboard is being turned off at the end of July. It’s Moodle or bust.
The shift away from Blackboard and adoption of Moodle should be seen as an exciting upgrade in the University’s digital environment. Beyond the effort needed in learning and adapting to a new system, with the associated technical setbacks to be expected of a digital move of this nature, staff and students should find Moodle to be much more up-to-date in terms of the current norms in website or digital platform technologies. Where Blackboard’s interface hasn’t drastically changed for a considerable time, Moodle’s visual structure and navigation is much more current.
Senior Lecturer Alison Green leads MA Culture, Criticism and Curation, one of the three courses whose Moodle site has been up and running since January. In some ways Alison has found the system easier to work with than Blackboard because, apart from having a file drag and drop function,
“It’s lighter and more user friendly in terms of managing your own site and making it look how you want it to. While we mainly use Blackboard on the BA as an archive, Moodle feels more nimble – you can put more links to things, which in turn mirrors a website or blog. Although I’m using it as an archive as well at the moment, it does have a blog type feel to it.”
Culture and Enterprise Programme Director Dominic Stone shared similar sentiments with his experience of MA Applied Imagination’s live Moodle site:
“We moved all of the content directly from Blackboard to Moodle so it hasn’t changed the way we do things but once we start to get it more customised it will start to feel more like a blog, more interactive and more informal.”
In terms of the way the adoption of Moodle forces a reassessment of course content and structure, Dominic underlined a positive aspect related to interactivity “I always thought Blackboard was actually a virtual Teaching environment, where Moodle feels more like a proper virtual Learning environment.”
In terms of CSM’s adoption of Moodle juxtaposed against the other colleges, Andrew describes a strong and distinctive character: “CSM is very diverse in approach, in terms of creative output, in terms of thinking and how staff members manage and use the same thing in extremely different ways”. This reflection and varying approaches is easily understood when comparing the four largest programmess at the college: Fine Art, Foundation, Fashion and Graphic Design. Each course has a particular structure in terms of pathways, organisation and even physical locations. Although this diversity makes the implementation process more complex, Andrew explains that it has triggered a number of constructive conversations and internal debates:
“It has provoked people to look at Moodle and say, are we organised as a course or as a programme in the best way for our students, staff and discipline? People aren’t being dictated by Moodle, but are being encouraged by the fact that they have to think about it, and have a wider conversation. It makes the process a little bit longer, but what I think is really positive is that the level of engagement with Moodle is much higher and much deeper in some aspects here than at other colleges. A lot of people are having to tune something to work for their programme and discipline, which in turn makes it so that they then own it and become very keen to develop it in a positive way and not weaken or ruin it just to conform to somebody else’s system – they are examining somebody else’s structure coming in and saying ‘how do we best use this to support our programme and our students’.”
Overall Andrew has been and is encouraged by the level of commitment and ownership that Staff have taken of their own virtual learning space. In terms of next steps for implementation he advises those developing their course sites to do so as early as possible, in order to space out demands for CLTAD support.
Current ‘live’ Moodle users Dominic and Alison of Culture and Enterprise give similar advice, warning of the evolutionary process required of adapting to a new system. Because of the difficulty in introducing a project of this nature Dominic recommends keeping a change log, in order to request the supporting resources to move on from there. As Alison eloquently put it: “There is a craft involved, and it takes time”. Dominic and Alison’s number 1 tip? Get as much help as you can from Andrew Sides – he knows a lot.
Many thanks to Andrew Sides, Dominic Stone and Alison Green for taking the time out of their busy Moodle-ing schedules to describe their experiences thus far.
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